In December 1996, I flew from Melbourne to Cairns for a 6-day Iron Range
expedition organised by Klaus Uhlenhut of Kirrama Wildlife Tours. I had a
couple of days free in the Cairns/Tablelands area at each end of the trip.
Iron Range, for those of you not familiar with the area, is a small remnant
of lowland rainforest plus surrounds, near the northern tip of Australia
which hosts about 20 species not found elsewhere in Australia (but found in
New Guinea, etc.). The trip is organised in December because at that time
there are three (?) migrant species not found at Iron Range in the more
pleasant dry season.
In Cairns, I hired Andy Anderson from his pitch on the Esplanade to take me
to Newell Beach and explain the tiny differences between the (common in OZ)
Welcome Swallow and the (rare in OZ) Pacific Swallow recently identified
there. On the basis of his specifications, we saw 2 Pacific Swallows in
about 6 hours of scrutinising the bums of hundreds of swallows. We did see
about 40 Barn Swallows at the Newell Beach Water Tower and at the golf
course near the Newell Beach turn-off. We searched unsuccessfully for the
Red-rumped Swallow in Pelizzari Road, further north towards Daintree.
While Klaus drove from Cairns to Iron Range, his four clients flew for about
2 hours. At Iron Range, we were based at the guest house in Lockhart River
township which was pretty ordinary although nowhere near as bad as had been
hinted. The food was good and Klaus overcame the many obstacles to comfort
and good birdwatching that confronted us. I had not experienced "taping-up"
birds before and although I retain some misgivings, the results were
spectacular. We saw about 106 species, 24 new species for me including all
of the Iron Range "specials". In fact we saw all of the specials in the
first 2 days except for the White-eared Monarch, seen two days later. I now
know what all those people meant when they spoke of Klaus' professionalism.
Mammals were few although we saw a sleeping Spotted Cuscus. Reptiles were
better including three Green Tree Pythons (surely the most beautiful
Australian snake), Water Python and Amethystine (?) Python.
Back in Cairns, I decided to look for the Blue-faced Parrot-finch at Mount
Lewis following reports of its presence there over the last month or so. I
had to go twice to the upper clearing and probably saw it on both occasions,
although the first was not good. It is really very difficult to get into
the binoculars. Other good birds included Barred Cuckoo-shrike at Mount
Lewis, Oriental Pratincole at Yarraba Turf Farm, Oriental Cuckoo at Redden
Island and White-browed Crake at its new twitching location of the Cairns
Crocodile Farm off Edmonton Road.
Total number of species for the trip was 170, 32 of these being first
sightings in Australia for me.